I had actually considered these two to be the same thing. Probably because they are both religious institutions.

Matthew 21:12-13 NKJV

12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”

Luke 4:16 NKJV

16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.

I'd like to know: what differentiated these two? A couple things on my mind are:

  • In use
  • In structure
  • In location
  • In religious leadership
  • In accessibility

According to Torrey's New Topical Textbook:

Places in which the Jews assembled for worship
Acts 13:5 Acts 13:14
Early notice of their existence
Psalms 74:8
Probably originated in the schools of the prophets
1 Samuel 19:18-24 ; 2 Kings 4:23
Revival of, after the captivity
Nehemiah 8:1-8
Matthew 6:5
Reading the word of God
Nehemiah 8:18 ; 9:3 ; 13:1 ; Acts 15:21
Expounding the word of God
Nehemiah 8:8 ; Luke 4:21
Praise and thanksgiving
Nehemiah 9:5

Jesus also called the temple a house of prayer which means that there must be some overlap in their use.

  • 7
    There is only ONE temple, located at temple mount in Jerusalem. The rest are all synagogues.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 21 at 19:36

5 Answers 5


The OP has partly answered his own question.

The temple did everything that the local synagogue did. However, the temple had a function not enjoyed by the local synagogue and that was to serve as the national, central place where the nation met as a whole for the three annual pilgrimages.

  • Ex 34:17 - Three times a year you are to celebrate a feast to Me.
  • Ex 23:17 - Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD.
  • Ex 34:23 - Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.
  • Ex 34:24 - For I will drive out the nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the LORD your God.
  • Deut 16:16 - Three times a year all your men are to appear before the LORD your God in the place He will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed.
  • 1 Kings 9:25 - Three times a year Solomon offered burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar he had built for the LORD, burning incense with them before the LORD. So he completed the temple.

Thus, the temple was the place of national sacrifice and national worship.

There was one more task for the temple to perform - permanently house the Ark of the Covenant.

  • +1. Thank you. That was very helpful!
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 21 at 6:21

I endorse @Dottard's answer but I would add than in modern Judaism, the synagogue has largely replaced the temple. In fact, many modern Jews often say "I am going to temple" when they are going to the synagogue. This is especially the case in Reform Judaism. While some ultra-orthodox sects look forward to the rebuilding of Temple of Jerusalem and the reestablishment of its altar, most do not.

The above Reform synagogue is the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles.

The above Reform synagogue is the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles.

According to Judaism 101

The Orthodox and Chasidim typically use the word "shul," which is Yiddish. The word is derived from a German word meaning "school," and emphasizes the synagogue's role as a place of study. Conservative Jews usually use the word "synagogue," which is actually a Greek translation of Beit K'nesset and means "place of assembly"

  • +1. I appreciate this add on!
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 21 at 6:22

The essential difference is that you did not offer sacrifice in a synagogue. You took your sacrifice to the Temple and offered it there.

Deuteronomy 12:10-14

But after you have crossed the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you as a heritage, when he has given you rest from all your enemies round about and you live there in security, then to the place which the LORD, your God, chooses as the dwelling place for his name you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and personal contributions, and every special offering you have vowed to the LORD. You shall rejoice in the presence of the LORD, your God, with your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as with the Levite within your gates, who has no hereditary portion with you. Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like, but offer them in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribal territories; there you shall do what I command you.

  • Otherwise they fulfilled many of the same purposes of Deut 12?
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 21 at 17:55

Whenever the Bible refers to "the temple", it means THE Temple (Beit Hamikdash) in Jerusalem. An elaborate and highly structured complex with multiple courtyards and chambers (including the Holy of Holies). The central place of the Jewish religion, where the people brought their sacrificial offerings, and visited during pilgrimage festivals. Where the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) performed the most sacred rituals on Yom Kippur. It had special requirements to be ritually “clean” in order to enter certain parts of the complex.

Synagogues, on the other hand, are local institutions, built wherever there's a significant Jewish community. Where people can read and study the Torah, participate in communal prayers, and celebrate holidays or special occasions such as Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. But they do not perform animal sacrifices or the special rituals done only at the Temple.

In modern times, the terminology is somewhat confused by the fact that Reform Judaism tends to refer to its synagogues as “temples”, treating their local places of worship as replacements for the centralized Temple in Jerusalem. However, more traditionalist Jewish movements tend to reject this idea, on the grounds that it devalues the uniqueness of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Perhaps you could think of a synagogue as a “branch office” of the Temple. Unless you happened to live in Jerusalem, it just wasn't practical to go to the Temple every week. Thus, the local synagogue offered a more accessible venue for religious needs.

  • @ Daniel ben Noach. Judging from the ben in your name, and your time here at BH , are you a Rabbi? Either way you speak with authority. It is good to know we have an expert of Hebrew on site.
    – RHPclass79
    Commented Feb 23 at 21:12
  • @RHPclass79: Thank you very much for my confidence, but I'm not a Rabbi, nor do I consider myself an "expert" of Hebrew. I really just know some fixed phrases and blessings by rote. Commented Feb 23 at 23:10
  • It was nice to meet you. God Bless
    – RHPclass79
    Commented Feb 23 at 23:52

Extremely simplified answer: G^d lived in the Temple (Bait haMikdash mentioned by Daniel), it was his house (thus the Holy of Holies). G*d does not live in the synagogues.

We can argue in the fact that nowadays he is supposed to live everywhere, but take into account that the old way of understanding religion was more antropomorphic. The divinity needed a place to be.

(Sorry for my bad English. Also for the brief answer, I just wanted to give an option of TL:DR).

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